Carolyn Hax Live: Opening the can ain't worth the worms (June 5)

Jun 05, 2015

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Well, hello. You're looking marvelous today.

Finding a therapist and how hard it is came up last chat (and many other times). As someone who has hunted for therapists both personally and professionally as a social worker, I thought I might suggest a strategy. Sadly, I don't think anything can make it easy, but I have found this method successful in getting someone into a therapist within a week and it has the added advantage of being able to hand off a piece of it to someone else, if there is someone you can trust to help you.

Step 1: Go to your insurance website for Mental or Behavioral Health (If you have insurance). This is likely to be different than your regular insurance website. If you don't know what it it (and it often isn't mentioned anywhere convenient for some reason I don't understand), you can call the number on the back of your insurance card and they will tell you. If you don't have insurance, try and search for therapists. You can also look for advocacy groups that specialize in something that applies to you, for example ALS or grieving parents.

Step 2: Search for providers. Try to get a list of about 40 or more providers before you start making calls. You should be able to set geographic limits, the gender of the therapist if that's important to you, and a specialty. If you live somewhere with a large population, be very specific, if not, be as general as you can.

Step 3: Start making calls. If you have someone who can help you, now is a great time to print out the list and hand it to them and ask them to do this step. If not, allow yourself about an hour and promise yourself something nice afterwards. Script for your helper: "My name is X and my number is Y. I am trying to find a therapist for someone in your area. I need to know if you are accepting new clients and if you take her insurance, which is Q. She is dealing with Z problem right now. Do you have experience dealing with this? If you might be a good fit, please call me back. Again, my name is X and my number is Y." You'll notice this is an answering machine message script, since they will leave a lot of messages. Expect to hear back from maybe a third of therapists. Many of those will not be a fit. Ask your friend to keep going until they have at least two therapists who have confirmed they could see you. It's ok to take breaks. If you are doing this for yourself, modify the script to be about you.

Step 4: Once you have some therapists who are accepting new clients, do a little research, or go ahead and pick one and schedule an appointment. A good place to do research is The profiles there are much more detailed and informative than any I've seen on insurance websites.

Step 5: Keep the list of other options handy. If you don't like the first therapist, try another. The list is also likely to get a little longer as a few more therapists respond to your messages.

Step 6: Remember, you are not in this alone and this is a hard uncomfortable problem, even for experts. Be kind to yourself as you do this and get as much help as you can. I've noticed it's ten times harder doing it for myself than for someone else.

This is really good, thank you. If it were a word, I would call these instructions dedauntifying.

The one thing I would amend in the script is: "If you might be a good fit, or can recommend someone who would be, please call me back." Every good therapist I've worked with was recommended by another therapist. 

Hello Carolyn, thanks for considering my question. Decades ago, when my husband and I were in our thirties and raising babies, we became very close friends with a group of couples with kids of similar ages. We did everything with these people and I look back on (most of) that time as some of the most fun I ever had. Then one day, while deep-cleaning my home, I found hidden a letter my husband had written to one of the other wives in the group. It was two pages long and handwritten and professed very deep feelings for her. The first page was quite poetic and emotional and the second page was graphic and sexual. After 25-odd years I can still quote it almost word for word. I was numb and returned the letter to where I had found it. Over the next few weeks, I checked that place repeatedly, almost compulsively, and the letter was still always there. Eventually, that other couple moved away. At some point after that, I checked again for the letter and it was gone. I do not know whether my husband sent it to her, ripped it up, or simply moved it to another place. I do know that I never mentioned it to him and that we went on to have a very normal marriage, raise our children, and stay committed. The daughter of another member of that former group is getting married next weekend, and the wedding will mark the first time I have seen that other woman (the intended letter recipient) since the early 90s. It may be fine. She may be old and frumpy, or she may look great for our age but hold no appeal for my husband at this point. I do not know what to expect, but I feel my heart clutch whenever I think of seeing her, particularly with my husband by my side. I have a very simple question. Do you think that, after all this time, I should mention the letter to my husband and allow him the chance to reassure me?

I would, but not strictly to obtain reassurance, because there's no guarantee I'd get that. The conversation in fact could be more unsettling, and more disruptive across more fronts, than was your initial discovery of the letter.

I answered through my perspective because it's too intensely personal for me even to try to answer through yours. Knowing what I know about myself, I don't think there's any way I would have responded exactly as you did in tucking the letter back in its hiding place and never saying a word. I probably would have blown things up on the spot, or at least within 24 hours. 

That makes your emotional landscape so unfamiliar to me that you remain the best guide through it (as is usually the case). My advice--guiding the guide, really--is to figure out what you want from this confrontation or non-. If you're just looking to get through the weekend with a calmer heart, please know that mentioning the letter will have consequences that last possibly for the rest of your life, while this wedding weekend will be over next Monday. Obviously you've been unsettled for years over your discovery, so the question I think you need to wrestle with--quickly--is whether you prefer the status quo, of knowing without saying and of stability without complete peace, or whether you're ultimately unhappy with that outcome and it's time to speak up.

Again--if this is really just about getting reassurance, you have to accept that this isn't a vending machine; after you feed in your information, you have no say in what you'll get.

I'm in a relationship with someone who loves me very much, but I'm unhappy. We're too young to have stopped having sex (30 and 36), but in the last year I can probably count on both hands how many times we've been intimate (not for my lack of trying). My pleading has gotten him into counseling, but I have seen no measurable improvement in this time. I love this man, but my resentment is eroding any feelings of goodwill. I'm writing because I've broken up with him twice over ~5 years. Each time, I felt really free and relieved at first, but within a matter of months, I missed him so much that I went back to him and things of course reverted to how they are now. He's not a bad person, but we are not a good match. I don't know how to stay strong when that aching loneliness inevitably returns. FWIW, I have no family to turn to, and my best friends in this city are mutual friends (we met through shared activities) whom I don't want to put in the middle. It takes a lot to let my guard down and be vulnerable with people, and not really having another person know me emotionally is probably contributing to this revolving door policy. How do I get up the strength to leave and stay gone?

You stop seeing the problem as being attached to a guy who won't have sex with you, and start seeing the problem as this:

It takes a lot to let my guard down and be vulnerable with people, and not really having another person know me emotionally is probably contributing to this revolving door policy. 

If you had more emotionally fulfilling relationships, and if you had confidence in your ability to form new ones when old ones come to an end, then you wouldn't be so dependent on this one unsatisfying relationship. You know this, it seems, but haven't carried that awareness forward into an effort to figure out why your walls are so high and how you can dismantle them.

Being extremely guarded can feel like a personality trait, but if you spend enough time people-watching, I think you'll see that as people get older and more settled into themselves, they become much less guarded--which tells me that a high need for privacy is in many ways circumstantial. If anything, the people who remain guarded and resolutely unmellow as they age are the exceptions who prove the rule, because so often they have Stuff for all to see that they refuse to reckon with.

If you're ready to take a hard look at what circumstances might have influenced you to withhold intimacy except in the rarest if cases, even at your own expense, then you might find a path out of this lonely place. Therapy can be great for this, if you find someone good, but it's also possible to self-guide if you're able to challenge yourself and accept blame where it's due.

Two people in my life recently decided that they wanted me to say specific things to them to fulfill their emotional needs. It wasn't a personal preference as in "please refer to my wedding as my Union" a simple request, but " I want you to say sorry even though you don't think you've done anything wrong." Or I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it. I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous. I caved on one and outright refused the other. What aggravates me is that I don't think they got what they were looking for which is asking me to feel emotions I don't feel then to express these insincere emotions to their satisfaction. What I tried and feel I failed to make clear is that I don't think they got anything out of their requests. Seriously, where does a person draw the line? I feel like the lesson here is never, ever give in to these misguided requests but that seems destructive. Maybe to just smooth the waters and make people feel better you're supposed to say anything?

So dukes-up!

These people want something from you that you're obviously not giving--and I'm not talking about the stock, insincere phrasing that you rightly call out as ridiculous here (but too-combatively call out as ridiculous to their faces). I'm talking about the emotional satisfaction they would derive from knowing they've been heard. If I read correctly between the lines here, you are stonewalling them, denying them that "I hear you" assurance they want from you. 

Thing is, "hearing" them doesn't have to mean you agree with what they're saying. You just need to -understand- their points, even if you don't share their perspectives. Take the question above, for example, about the tucked-away infidelity letter. You can know for sure you would have handled it differently, you can think the other person would have been better off if she had handled it differently, but you can still understand completely why she made the choice she did--in the context of her needs and her world view. It's a broadening of what you treat as valid to encompass others' natures and views.

That's what these people in the instances you cite are actually asking of you: -Understand us.-  So I suggest you try that, in lieu of quibbling with their methods. Or, to adapt your words: Maybe to just smooth the waters and make people feel better you're supposed to listen carefully and make it clear you grasp how they feel, even when your experience puts you entirely somewhere else.

While I appreciate the instructions that the poster provided, and am sure that this process_can_work, and I agree that getting help to do this is a great idea, can I just comment on how monumentally hard this is if you're in the middle of a depressive episode? I've been in this situation, as have friends of mine. When getting out of bed in the morning is difficult, facing the prospect of cold calling a bunch of therapists is impossible (and let's not even start on how much rejection this constitutes). One thing that helped one friend was asking a primary care provider for a referral. However, the same request completely freaked my PCP out and pushed me to the EAP at work, which was how I found a good therapist. [Shout out to EAPs!]. Those would be my suggestions. Here would be my complaint: it upsets me to hear politicians and talking head bloviate about the importance of making mental health services accessible whenever something tragic happens, and yet the services are still frequently out of reach, even for people who are pretty motivated to seek help.

I think we're going around in a circle here. 

My advice in finding a good therapist has always been to start with your PCP and/or EAP. Sometimes, that leads to a handful of names of providers who then don't return your call. This is the exact problem we discussed last week (LINK to the Q and A that started this circle). These instructions are the answer to the question, "What then?"--with the understanding that it's "monumentally hard," as you say. My exact words were, "It can be exhausting to work this hard mid-trauma, but some areas are just deserts when it comes to mental health care, and working to find someone is better than just giving up."

Have an immediate: He put a lot in that letter and never sent it. Maybe it was his way of trying to work through those feelings without acting on them. And that he figured she never had a clue. If she raises it with him -- it's a chance for them to clear a lot of old baggage and maybe have a stronger union. Or she might find out they've been living a hollow compromise for 25 years -- a don't ask/don't tell arrangement. Which is perhaps why she never confronted him -- out of fear that the confrontation would force results she wasn't ready to face?

I just wanted to mention: should the OP still be thinking about this letter on a regular basis - she mentioned she can quote it word for word 25 years after the fact, but not whether it is a regularly scheduled program of thoughts - it might be good for her to have a conversation with her husband regardless of what is going on this weekend. The OP sounds very level and calm in her thoughts, which is laudable (I would've put on a rather entertaining impression of a July 4th fireworks display), but this kind of knowledge can fester. Also, if the OP would like to have the conversation, perhaps choose a time which is less emotionally charged than the weekend she sees someone her husband once had strong, extramarital feelings for. Just a thought.

I am like the OP. I would have done what she did or something similar. Mostly because I, frankly, would have feared that it would have fueled something and he would have left me. So, I would say, for me, NOT saying anything now would be my response. Again, things have gone well for her and him. Sometimes opening the can ain't worth the worms.

Hi Carolyn, Submitting early for Friday's chat to compensate for time zones! Ar what point should I tell a person I'm seeing that my romantic life does not include exclusive relationships for the foreseeable future? I'm over a year out from my separation & my divorce will be officially final any day now. I've had two really good dates with someone I like and I want to be straightforward with him. We've been friendly acquaintences for a few years and he's known - in general, no details - that I'm recently divorced since before I first asked him out. I've made the conscious decision that, while I would like to date and I enjoy having a romantic life, I am not interested in any kind of exclusive commitment right now. Maybe I will be one day, but I'm focusing on taking good care of myself and my preschooler right now. I want to establish stability for both of us before I bring someone else in close in my life. When is the right time to say this out loud to a man I can see myself really liking? I'd love to keep enjoying his company for as long as it works for both of us but I'm not ready to make any promises or commitments to anyone right now. I guess I'm asking more about the etiquette of the delivery since I know that using one's words to be clear about expectations is the right and fair thing to do. Thank you!

There's no need for etiquette where honesty will do. "I really like you. I'm also still putting myself back together after the divorce. I hope you'll understand that I need to keep things casual." Say it next time you see him. You asked him out, so he knows you like him, so there you go.

The great thing about great people who like you is that you can say just about anything to them, and they'll deal with it. If they're not great people or not that into you, then they'll find something wrong with your truth-telling and spare you of their presence and therefore of any further negotiations. 

Good luck. Sounds like you've found a pretty good place for yourself to regroup--give yourself credit, that's not easy.

I agree with your answer in general, but this statement seems passive aggressive to me. Can't that person just talk about what they want to talk about? Why the need to be asked first?

This is a misuse of passive aggressive. PA is to use inaction as a form of aggression. So, for example, take Spouse 1 who is angry at Spouse 2, and expresses that anger by leaving dirty dishes on the table--that's PA. Or Spouse 1 watching TV while Spouse 2 does all the heavy lifting on child care even though Spouse 2 just had a this-is-not-okay conversation with Spouse 1 about 1's lack of investment in the household and family. 

The spelling out that "I want you to ask me this" is not passive aggressive. It's a bit tortured in the wording, and, yes, a person could just talk about it--but that doesn't get at the deeper layer of having the OP's interest and attention. Think of it instead as, "I want you to show an interest in this thing I want to talk about"--or, to put a specific label on it as an illustration, "It would mean a lot to me if you asked me sometimes how my cancer treatments are going." That's the kind of statement that we encourage around here in Chatville.

" I want you to say sorry even though you don't think you've done anything wrong." Or I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it. I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous. " Hold on a minute here. If people you care about are asking you for these things, assuming you like and respect them, why are you not taking a moment to see their perspectives as at least partially valid? If a friend wants to talk about something and you know it's important to them, why aren't you asking? If I hurt someone I care about, even if I don't think I did anything wrong, there's room for SOME type of apology. I'm normally not a fan of "I'm sorry if you were offended," but isn't there some place in the middle between nothing and totally conceding their points?

"why are you not taking a moment to see their perspectives as at least partially valid"

Zackly. Hear them, and tell them you do. 

Throughout my life, I've prided myself on not "suffering fools". People I've found to be unreliable I try to keep a distance. But as I find myself in my late 40s, I'm wondering if this safety tactic is backfiring. For example, the hoarder in my building who goes through my trash every day. Creepy+annoying=ignore him. But now I've got one less neighbor. The guy at the dog park with the untrained dog=ignore him. But now I've got awkward silences when we are together (which is often). Can you help me find a middle ground between protecting myself from individuals I cannot stomach and finding myself more and more alone in this world?

I'm all for not suffering fools, but you have to know when and how you are a fool yourself to pull this off with any kind of humanity.

So, sure, give some people a wide berth because you just don't have it in you to take on everyone's crap. Sure, if someone seems to have been designed with your pet peeves as a set of instructions, then keep walkin'. But if you're heading into every encounter with people from the position of, "Don't even try your stuff on me, I'm too smart/tough/righteous for that," then that is a formula for loneliness.

Take Untrained Dog Guy. He could have many lovely qualities and just be new to dogs, or merely in possession of the first dog who made him pay for his lack of expertise. Just for e.g. If you spend a little time thinking of the reasons people might make a mental note not to let you get any closer to them, then you might be more flexible in your assessments of others. "One less neighbor" is not a big deal if you have two of three you know you can count on, and who can count on you.

Hi Carolyn, Your advice to Tuesday's LW to find an activity that just the two of them can do struck a cord with me. I have a stepson in 5th grade who I have found it very difficult to connect with for the years I have been in his life. Recently, he has been seeking to connect with me by playing basketball in his room when he comes over. He seems to really enjoy it. Here's my problem: I hate it. During our playtime, he spends most of the time telling me what I can and cannot do and what I'm "doing wrong" (i.e. "you can't stand there when you shoot, you have to stand over there!" or "you stepped over the line, so it's my ball!"). And sometimes if I try and make it more lighthearted - like making goofy faces when shooting - he tells me that I'm not taking it seriously. But it's supposed to be FUN, right??!! It doesn't feel like we're connecting, it feels like I'm allowing a child to boss me around for 20 minutes. But he loves it! And although I have tried (oh how I have tried!), he is not interested in any other activities I suggest (unless it's video games, and he behaves the same way if we play video games together). Should I just suck it up and keeping doing this? Am I actually feeding his need to connect or am I just enabling bossy behavior? (online only please) Stepmom woes

Have you said to him that you don't like being told how to play? Especially if you frame it as a question to him first--"How do you think you would you feel if I spent this time telling you how and where you had to shoot?" Not angrily in response to another set of orders, but next time you play and before you even start. It's okay to set ground rules; it doesn't "ruin" the connection time, at least not any more than his bossing you around already has.

To make this go over better, you can ask him to show you how he does X or Y shot. That demonstrates that it's okay to coach when asked vs. bossy to do it all the time. 

And when you disagree on a way of playing something, you can agree to alternate, 10 minutes his way then 10 minutes your way. Even better if you can then say, 10 minutes on a game you make up together. 

In other words, you can find ways to make this pleasant for him that allow him to have his say without reducing you to his doormat.

If this doesn't work, or if you just see into the future that mini-hoops isn't going to carry you all the way to his adulthood, take another look at the idea of "suggesting" activities. I think this will be familiar to a lot of people, that if they presented beloved activities as suggestions they would have ended before they started. Kids just don't have the experience to get an accurate read on many ideas that adults float by them.

The best way to come across the shared activity is organically, but sometimes you have to goose it by saying, "Okay, first beautiful day, we're going to do X, which _____________" (was my favorite thing as a kid/I've always wanted to try/I just heard about from an old friend of mine and it made me think of you). Sometimes these experiences will flop, but the trying itself is a bonding opportunity, especially if you can resist getting invested in the outcome and needing your stepson to love it. If you can admit when something isn't great but you're still glad you and he got to try it, then the pressure is off and it's clear it's just a pleasure to spend time with him, which is the message that you wanted to send to begin with. 

I am SO in this boat with you. So often I just Cannot with people around me. I think it is actually a protective/anxiety related device, because I've decided ppl are going to be as hard on me as I am on them and on myself. Taking a breath and offering the benefit of the doubt (and asking innocuous dog questions) helps sometimes.

Hi Carolyn - Checking in from Germany here and before I proceed, your post is one of those constants that makes any place a good way! Here goes: Of late, my MIL has been trying her best to 'be my friend' for lack of a better phrase. We have always been civil but have never shared the easy, loving camaraderie that my husband shares with my mom. Her overtures and communications are frequent. I'm unable to reciprocate because I don't like her that much, and I don't like her because of an unkind comment from a while back. At my brother-in-law's wedding a few years ago, I overheard her telling a relative that she was happy that she'd finally get to be a grandmother with this one. The comment wounded me deeply because my husband and I have struggled with infertility in the 10 years we've been married. More importantly, this incident was immediately after a second miscarriage that happened about 6 months into my pregnancy. Carolyn, my husband & I both have limited recollection of that wedding. We were in so much pain that we couldn't register much. Her comment has lingered with me nonetheless. Fast forward a few years and life is good albeit sans kids. We get to travel a lot, we volunteer with an organization that has shown us a world outside of ourselves and I'm at peace. Except for this little piece of shrapnel that I cannot seem to take out. I want to forgive her for myself and for Joe...but every time she tries to get closer, my mind zeroes onto those words and I absolutely despise her. What dialogue can I use to replace the hate that comes seething through? Thank you for taking my question. M

Maybe it's bomb-throwing day, but I think you should tell her what you overheard and, if she needs reminding, what had just happened at the time you overheard it, and that it remains with you as this piece of shrapnel that prevents you from embracing her completely--even as she makes these frequent overtures. 

Maybe it will always remain as an obstacle between you, but at least you will both know you both know. In my experience, at least, that is very freeing.

I'm not going to defend what she said, because it's indefensible, but you might have caught her in a raw moment that didn't represent the true measure of her compassion.

I'm so sorry for your losses, and thank you for the kind words. Nice that this forum can be a "home" of sorts.



When my husband is in a bad mood, he becomes very short and snippy to me. He sometimes specifically tells me that he's not annoyed at me, just generally, so its clear that theres nothing I can really do. Regardless, it makes me feel upset and uncomfortable and continues to affect me for some time after I talk to him. It feels personal even though its not. I need to work on my own reactions here, right? because I cant change his? How do I do that?

It doesn't sound as if you've gotten all the way to the I-can't-change-him-I-can-only-change-me wall. Have you said to him, for example, that intellectually you know it's not about you when he's snippy to you, but it still affects you emotionally? Have you said to him--assuming you believe this--that you get that his snippiness isn't -about- you, but you think you deserve a better effort on his part to manage his bad moods? Taking moods out on other people occasionally is inevitable, but if it's just his way of being in a bad mood and happens regularly, then that's pretty adolescent behavior. If you pose this to him not as a matter of your sensitivity, but instead as a, "There's got to be a better way," entreaty, then maybe he'll be willing to take a look at his actions.

It's also possible you can implement a strategy or even a code--when he's this way, he says to you outright that it's one of those times, and then you both default to a prepared bad-mood ritual: he goes for a long walk, or you leave him alone for 30 minutes to decompress, or ____. Having a set role to play can take a lot of pressure off both of you, ideally feeding you fewer opportunities to take things personally.

If he's being a weenie to you regularly and refuses even to tweak his behavior, then going into this in depth with a therapist, just for you, might help you figure out where and how to draw the line for your own health.

There's a massive question: Did MIL even know they were struggling or did she just think they were not having kids for their own choice? We didn't tell ANYONE FOR YEARS that we were struggling with IF. If the MIL did not know, then she had every right to say that! Plus, it may have been something she said in private. MIL's want grandkids too, and it may not have been a personal dig. From someone who also is sans-kids-NOT-by-choice..... please forgive her if it wasnotT said in malice.

The MIL didn't know she was being overheard. Something tells me she would be appalled to find out. Carolyn, you often say to look at the big this someone who often drops conversational bombs and leaves people reeling? Or is she lovely in every other respect besides this one overheard remark?

Sometimes it is okay to be a "doormat" for just a few minutes, so long as you know who is actually in charge/is the adult and make that clear. Kids this age have very little power - they get told what to do and when and usually how. A lot. So letting them OWN something, even if it is silly rules to a silly game, can be okay sometimes. It doesn't make you a real doormat, it just gives them a little bit of power for a few minutes. They also tend to like to show you how good they are and how much they know about something (or about EVERYthing). Let the kid explain something to you or teach you something and really open yourself up to it. Your goal here is to bond with this kid, no? Try to remember how powerless you felt at that age and give him a little power, within reason.

Right--there's a fine line, though, and what you suggest is on the right side of it: "Let the kid explain something to you or teach you something and really open yourself up to it."

On the wrong side of the line is not saying anything while the kid corrects/criticizes everything you do whether you asked for corrections or not. That is not power I recommend giving because, for one, if he pulls that on peers, they're going to hate playing with him and stop coming over. And, it's not a bonding opportunity anymore because the adult playing along is not having fun--humoring someone is not connecting. It can be okay when done lovingly and in small doses (or, I guess, huge doses with really small kids, because toddler fun is just not fun for your average adult ...) but when that's the substance of your one-on-one time, it's going to fizzle out with the two of you no closer than when you started.

Mutual enjoyment and mutual respect are the gold standard here, and while you're not going to achieve them the first time out, it's fine to be mindful of the foundation you're laying and to keep respect in the mix, even as you're giving him his time to be in charge.

And speaking of that place we all love called Haxville, I still miss the old format that showed how many people were inhabiting during the chats.

FWIW, the number of people is pretty consistent (you guys are a loyal group!) at 4,000 or so.

Hi Carolyn, I wanted to send an update of events since my letter about my daughter with the friend who was probably intimidating us all. I really appreciated your response as well as the readers' (but that can be WAY harsh, Tai), and I showed it to my husband. We had already contacted the school counselor, and as luck would have it she actually called us back the day after the letter was published. However, despite our very clearly expressed concerns, she redirected the issue back on us and said that our daughter needed therapy if the issue could not be resolved in another way. This was very frustrating. The next week, the high school counselor (my daughter is in a shared campus Middle/High school, it is common where I live) contacted the shared teacher of both girls. Apparently, the friend in question had been failing so badly that she had been referred to the intervention/high school counselor. Without going into further detail, this counselor saw the issues and was able to identify them to teachers and staff. We also worked hard with our daughter to help her express limits and to divert her away from this friendship. She was able to successfully do both by finding activities that her "friend" was not involved in and learning to express herself to her peers. Is everything better? No, but they are improving. I saw my child in peril and I wrote you the week after the bad sleepover. I was shocked at the shrug off I got from administration at first but continued to pursue the issue and am now (mostly) happy with the results. The most important thing is my daughter is doing beautifully. She has taken advantage of many extracurricular activities her "friend" wasn't involved in, has made new connections, and will soon be performing in her 4th show of the year (her choice, not mine). Thank you!

Thanks for the update. I;m glad your daughter is doing well, and that the friend has the school's full attention. This serves as proof, too, of the importance of sticking with things--often the first response isn't good enough and you have to say so. 

Here's the original Q and A for those who need a memory refresher: LINK

And the other link key to understanding that update: LINK 

My husband was like this too but he would also shout at me and then get confused as to why I was taking it personally. So we came to the agreement that he could shout as much as he wanted so long as the first thing was "I'M NOT SHOUTING AT YOU OR UPSET WITH YOU I JUST NEED TO GET THIS OUT" now I feel better he feels better and it doesn't end in tears and a fight. It usually ends in ice cream and a few episodes of our favorite TV show. It also reduces the time he spends upset because he was able to just get it all out

I'm not a stepmom, but I do have a son. When he was your stepson's age I noticed how much he enjoyed helping me or instructing me in something - never anything too onerous. It made him feel competent and strengthened our bond. When he was 11 he assembled a piece of IKEA type furniture for me. He was so proud of himself and I was proud of him too.

"The MIL didn't know she was being overheard. Something tells me she would be appalled to find out." If the MIL did know about the fertitility issues, this is a moot point. Saying something out of earshot does not make it okay. Being lovely aside from this one overheard remark isn't the point - what she was overheard saying, and the fact that she would say something like that in the first place puts a crack in the foundation of trust one places in a person. It needs to be addressed if it's been eating at the OP for this long.

I'm glad some people chimed in on the side of the MIL. I often say things to my best friend, the person who knows my heart so totally, that I would NEVER want anyone else to overhear. Maybe it was that kind of situation. On the other hand, maybe you really just don't like her that much. And that's ok too! Just might be time to let go of the other comment and see the hurt it caused as coming from you and your struggles, not her.

I get this a fair amount from my 20-year-old daughter. We have a good relationship, but sometimes—deliberately or not—I miss my lines. You know, the "That's awful!" or "You poor baby!" or "You're so smart," or whatever form of affirmation/sympathy/support she is looking for at that moment. Then she might tell me, "Dad, you're not very good at this." Truth is, I don't want to give her everything she wants, every time. That's not what a parent should do, and it's not what a friend should do, either. Still, a friend who tells you what she wants you to say is also saying: "I could use some sympathy or validation right now, and it doesn't have to be heartfelt." I don't think there's anything wrong with sometimes honoring a request like that.

I have a male best friend who I have (or had) an incredibly deep and really beautiful relationship with (this sounds very sappy, which you will have to believe me when I say is not my normal look). Along with that, however, comes really deep romantic feelings on both sides. He was married when we first became friends and although we acknowledged the feelings (it would literally be impossible not to) we never crossed any lines. I encouraged him to do what he could to save his marriage and we kept a pretty safe distance (we lived in different places at the time and saw each other infrequently). When his marriage finally dissolved, our feelings intensified, but then he suddenly threw himself into the quickest rebound relationship of all time with somebody who is admittedly a very interesting and kind person. She moved in with him basically immediately and then they ultimately moved closer to me, which meant he and I started spending even more time together. And while we again never acted on our feelings, they became more and more obvious and harder to push away. We eventually talked about it and while he realized he shouldn't have gotten into this relationship so quickly (particularly in light of our feelings) and wasn't that happy, he felt like he made a commitment and needed to make it work. I didn't want to carry on an emotional affair or spend my time pining for somebody who wasn't going to be my boyfriend, so I cut off all contact with him. Now it is almost eleven months later and I still miss him at what I think is a normal level of missing somebody who still means that much to you, though I've never really missed anybody that much before, so I guess I don't really know. I think my biggest regret is that I feel like I didn't fight hard enough for him. Is it wrong to reach out again to test the waters even though I know they are still together?

My biggest regret on your behalf is that you didn't call boolsheet on his "I feel like I made a commitment and I need to make it work" rationale the moment he slung it. 

Someone who can't own his feelings was destined to make you miserable one way or another, either with him and lukewarming it after the initial wow phase, or without him and pining. I'm sorry.

Think about it. Either: He really loves you, in which case his declaration of his need to tough it out with someone he doesn't love is just ludicrous on all fronts--bad for him, bad for the new woman, bad for you, and for what? He left a marriage but can't leave an un-vowed coupling? Please.

Or: He really loves the new woman, wants her more than he wants you, but doesn't have the fortitude to say that to you outright. That would mean he could have spared you an indefinite period of what-iffing but chose not to. Ugh. Perhaps to keep you on a string. Ugh-er.

Or: He doesn't have preference, you or the new woman or someone else to be named later, he just likes to be ensconced and the nest he was in was working well enough not to want to upend it.

So I don't see any happiness for you here. I realized there's a him-shaped hole where your cherished friendship used to be, and that hurts, but I don't think seeing him as the true love who got away is a realistic branch with which to flog yourself. Consider embracing the idea that it didn't work because it doesn't work, and see where that takes you.



Okeydoke, I'll be curling up into a ball now. Thanks everyone for stopping in, have a great weekend and I'll type to you here next week. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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